Finding Aid to the Brownie Mary Collection, 1981-2001, SFH 379

Finding aid prepared by Tami J. Suzuki
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA, 94102
(415) 557-4567

Title: Brownie Mary Collection
Date (inclusive): 1981-2001
Collection Identifier: SFH 379
Creator: Rathbun, Mary (Mary Jane), 1922-1999
Physical Description: 3 boxes, 2 oversized flat boxes, 1 framed art piece (2.1 cubic feet)
Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA, 94102
(415) 557-4400
Abstract: Contains news clippings, flyers, and brochures about Rathbun, the cannabis brownies she served to people with AIDS and other serious illnesses, and the medical marijuana legalization movement; awards, some photographs, and items including her signature vest.
Physical Location: The collection is stored on site.
Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.


The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Collections that are stored off site should be requested 48 hours in advance.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Brownie Mary Collection (SFH 379), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Custodial History

Collection received in 3 accessions, from 2000 to 2001. Bulk of collection was collected by Mary Rathbun, turned over to Beth Moore, and donated by Karen Masonheimer. Shirt and vest, framed proclamation, oversized photograph, and carved wooden keepsake box with trinkets donated by Larry W. Bittner as executor of the estate of Mary Rathbun. Charcoal portrait and stuffed bear donated by Beverly Baber.

Biographical Note

Mary Jane Rathbun, popularly known as Brownie Mary, was a medical marijuana activist. Born in 1922, she arrived in San Francisco from Minnesota in the late 1940s. She was briefly married and had a daughter who died in a vehicle accident in 1974. She worked as a waitress and began a side cottage business of selling cannabis brownies, baking them in her kitchen, posting flyers for "magically delicious...original recipe brownies," and selling them from a basket in her Castro neighborhood. Rathbun was described as grandmotherly, and she wore a marijuana-themed vest and pendant. With no grandchildren of her own, she called the patients with AIDS that she befriended her "adopted kids." She was twice arrested in San Francisco for possession, receiving community service. This led to volunteering with the Shanti Project, launching her career as an AIDS activist. She volunteered with and delivered her special brownies to San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86, the AIDS outpatient clinic. Rathbun was arrested a third time in Sonoma County in 1992; the charges were dropped.
In 1991, San Franciscan's passed Proposition P, which urged state lawmakers to legalize use of medical marijuana. California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. Rathbun appeared on the cover of Newsweek (Nov. 1,1993), and she co-wrote a book with Dennis Peron, founder of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. In 1997, she and Peron were honored as Grand Marshals of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Mayor Willie L. Brown proclaimed May 2, 1999 as Brownie Mary Day, honoring her for her years of compassionate care of people suffering from illness. Rathbun died of a heart attack at age 77 in 1999.

Scope and Contents

Collection has news clippings, flyers, and brochures about Rathbun, her cannabis brownies, and the medical marijuana legalization movement; awards, some photographs, and items including her signature vest. A copy of her cookbook and some handwritten cookie recipes are included; the brownie recipe is not included. Records of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club are not included.

Materials Transferred

Handmade book, Death Experience, by Penny King, 1981, (autographed by author, #2 of 5), added to library catalog.


Organized alphabetically.

Processed by

Tami J. Suzuki

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Rathbun, Mary (Mary Jane), 1922-1999 -- Archives
Cooking (Marijuana)
Marijuana -- Law and Legislation -- California
Marijuana -- Law and Legislation-- California -- San Francisco
Marijuana -- Therapeutic use -- Recipes


Files, 1981-2000

Scope and Contents

Newspaper articles, brochures, flyers, recipes, and some correspondence documenting Rathbun's work as a medical marijuana activist.
Box 1, Folder 1

Arrest in San Francisco, 1981

Box 1, Folder 2, OV-flat-box 5, Folder 1

Arrest and Case in Sonoma County, 1992

Box 1, Folder 3

Awards, 1990-1995

Box 3

Mayoral Proclamation, 1999

Box 4

San Francisco General Hospital, Ward 86 Volunteer of the Year Plaque, 1986

Box 1, Folder 4, OV-flat-box 5, Folder 1

Biographical Articles, 1993-1999

Box 1, Folder 5

Biographical: Memorial Service, May 2, 1999

Box 1, Folder 6, OV-flat-box 5, Folder 1

Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron's Recipe for Social Change, 1996

Box 1, Folder 7

Correspondence, 1992-1995

Box 1, Folder 8, Oversize-box 5, Folder 1

Fundraising, 1993-1996

Box 1, Folder 9

Magical Brownie Flyers, 1981

Box 1, Folder 10

Manuscript, "This Little Old Lady Bullshit," undated

Box 1, Folders 11-12

Marijuana/Hemp Organizations and Publications, 1990-[1996?]

OV-flat-box 5, Folder 1

Marijuana March Poster, 1984


Medical Marijuana

Box 1, Folder 13

Articles, 1992-2000

Box 1, Folder 14

Legislation, 1981-1996

Box 1, Folder 15

Project CODA Video, 2001

Box 2, Folder 1

Publications, 1991-1997

Box 2, Folder 2, OV-flat-box 5, Folder 1

Moore, Beth, 1999-2000

Biographical/Historical note

Beth Moore was one of Rathbun's "adopted kids." The cremains of both women were released into the Gulf of Mexico upon Moore's passing in 2000.

News Clippings and Brochures

Box 2, Folder 3

AIDS, 1992-1996

Box 2, Folder 4

War on Drugs, 1993-1996


Objects, [1981?-2001?]

Scope and Contents

Items mostly belonging to Mary Rathbun. Some have a marijuana theme. Included is Mary's signature shirt and vest, as well as a volunteer award from San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86. A marijuana pendant is among objects in a box with a marijuana leaf carved into the top.
Box 2, Folder 5

Cannabis Club Identification Cards of Karen Masonheimer, [199-?-2001?]

Box 2, Folder 6

Paper Marijuana Art, no date

Box 4

Cap, undated

Frame SFA-0669

Framed Drawing of Brownie Mary, 1996

Dimensions: 18"x23" art work in 24"x19" frame.

Scope and Contents

Color charcoal portrait by Harrington.
OV-flat-box 6

Free Brownie Mary T-shirt, [1981?]

Box 4

Keepsake Box with Trinkets, undated

Scope and Contents

Brownie Mary Name Pin, AIDS Ribbon Pin, $.28 in change, 8 seashells, and marijuana leaf pendant.
OV-flat-box 6

Shirt and Vest,

Scope and Contents

Vest is adorned with embroidered "Brownie Mary" name and marijuana leaves, and marijuana-themed pins. Another pin is in one of the vest pockets.

Materials Transferred

A small baggie of M&M candies was removed from a pocket.
Box 4

Stuffed Bear with Medical Marijuana March Button, 2000

Box 4

Volunteer Plaque, SF General Hospital Ward 86, 1986

Box 2, Folders 7-9, OV-flat-box 5, Folder 2

Photographs, undated

Scope and Contents

Color snapshots and one black-and-white image (of Rathbun with a plate of brownies). Subjects include Rathbun, Dennis Peron, and Karen Moore.

Technical Requirements

Some photos were digitized in various formats and saved on a compact disc (CD). Images were printed from the CD for access.